Posted on Friday, 13th March 2009
Odette’s Restaurant has become something of an institution in Primrose Hill since it opened in 1978. In 2006, Bryn Williams took over as the head chef, and went on to become the owner in October 2008, when he purchased the restaurant from music mogul Vince Power. Having previously worked at Le Gavroche, The Orrery and Galvin at Windows, Bryn gained further recognition in 2006 on the television programme, The Great British Menu, by winning the fish course, and consequently the opportunity to cook the dish for The Queen at her 80th birthday banquet.
Therefore it was with great curiosity that JK (and that’s not Rowling) and I ventured to Odette’s. Having met up for a drink before dinner, we set off to the restaurant in two separate cars. And what a journey that turned out to be. As she thought she knew the way, I decided to follow her. But as it turned out, she didn’t really know the way. Furthermore, her road handling is of the kind that belongs more on a race track than on the speed bumps that lead to Primrose Hill. In contrast, I am rather slow in my little car. And alas, it was not long before we became separated.
JK, of course, arrived at Odette’s before me. No surprises there. But I did finally manage to cross the finishing line, umm, about 10 minutes later. Feeling a little dishevelled, I stumbled through the front door to be greeted by another rush of sensation, that of being slapped across the face – my attacker: the wallpaper. A grey-patterned design, it was so ‘in-your-face’, intrusive and conspicuously bold that I was simply overwhelmed.
And this was before I had even had the chance to register the restaurant’s dowdy colour scheme of green (the carpet) and yellow (the chairs and curtains). JK would later go on to describe the décor as a ‘Next Home Store on acid’ (sic). What she meant by that was ‘distasteful suburban’. I, on the other hand, suggested the word ‘confused’. But it was to be another two minutes before I would have this conversation with her, for as I tried to make my way to the table, the waiter, in an act of extreme rudeness, barked at me for not closing the front door.
Ouch, another slap, but this time on the wrist. Wow, all this activity and only in the space of 20 minutes. Could there possibly be more excitement to come? I needed to sit down. As the tabloids like to report, there is never a dull moment amongst the Primrose Hill set. In my defence, I had assumed, albeit incorrectly, that the door was on an automatic hinge. No matter. I reminded myself that it was the food that mattered and decided to ignore both the waiter’s rebuke and the interior to concentrate on Odette’s modern British cuisine.
And Bryn Williams’ well groomed pedigree cooking did shine through. The presentation of the dishes was immaculate, and a starter of pepper wood pigeon (£9.95) served both as slices of medium rare, gamey flesh and a flavoursome, meaty tartare were exquisite. Combined with a delightful and creamy sweetcorn pannacotta, crispy Bayonne ham and trompette mushrooms, it made for a luscious start to the meal.
Seared foie gras (£12.95) was decadent and tender, and matched wonderfully with an orange confit. However, it also came with chunky pieces of honeycomb, which, when eaten in combination with the foie gras, was so sweet that it overpowered this beautiful delicacy. An additional accompaniment of Earl Grey jelly also proved superfluous. Tasting like large blobs of gelatine, it was rather distracting. Had the dish been plated with smaller chunks of honeycomb and without the jelly, it could have made for an almost perfect starter.
Pan-fried organic salmon (£17.95) was cooked to medium rare perfection, if slightly under seasoned. Mounted over wholesome vegetables in a liquorice jus and crushed potatoes, it delivered a harmonious bond of lovely flavours. A succulent roasted loin of Welsh lamb (£19.95) was presented with a hearty and rich, braised lamb shoulder that helped to further elevate the status of this main. The accompaniment of creamy aubergine purée provided additional warmth to the dish, although the baby onions were slightly undercooked.
A cardamom crème brûlée (£8.95) with poached rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet delivered aftertastes of aromatic cardamom, and sharp, tart rhubarb. However the polenta cake (£8.95) with almond and milk ice cream was a little disappointing. A touch dry, it was again served with an unpalatable blob of gelatine, this time of blood orange jelly.
Overall, the dishes were tasty and well executed. There was a real depth of flavour, even if the inclusion of the jellies were questionable, and the deployment of the foaming technique in the amuse bouche of butternut squash soup a little passé. A few minor alterations and Bryn Williams could have had a superlative menu. A glass of Taittinger Prestige Rosé champagne (£11.50) helped to soothe these grumbles. Wines are priced from approximately £20 and accommodate a range of choices from France, Italy and the New World.
But despite the food, much more care is needed on the service. Notwithstanding my initial attempt to overlook being growled at, it became apparent that bad service was the status quo for the evening. The waiters were petulant, rude, sulky and scruffily dressed; and for most of the night they did their best to ignore us, avoiding eye contact whenever possible. With their backs consistently turned towards us, at one point, I was forced to make my way to the waiter’s station to try and get some attention.
Disappointingly, the service let the experience down. And so, perhaps, I wasn’t the one who deserved a good hard slap.
130 Regents Park Road
Tel: +44 (0)207 7586 8569